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Home / Case Digests / 00-1831 U.S. v. Craft

00-1831 U.S. v. Craft

The rights Michigan law granted respondent’s husband qualify as “property” or “rights to property” under sec. 6321. The broad statutory language authorizing the tax lien reveals that Congress meant to reach every property interest that a taxpayer might have. United States v. National Bank of Commerce, 472 U.S. 713, 719-720. The husband’s rights of use, exclusion, and income alone may be sufficient to subject his entireties interest to the lien, for they gave him a substantial degree of control over the property. See Drye, supra, at 61. He also had the right to alienate the property with respondent’s consent. The unilateral alienation stick is not essential to “property.” Federal tax liens may attach to property that cannot be unilaterally alienated, United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, and excluding such property would exempt a rather large amount of what is commonly thought of as property. A number of the sticks in respondent’s husband’s bundle were presently existing, so it is not necessary to consider whether his survivorship right alone, which respondent claims is an expectancy, would qualify as property or rights to property. Were this Court to reach a contrary conclusion, the entireties property would belong to no one for sec. 6321 purposes because respondent had no more interest in the property than her husband. Such a result seems absurd and would allow spouses to shield their property from federal taxation by classifying it as entireties property, facilitating abuse of the federal tax system.

Legislative history does not support respondent’s position that Congress did not intend that a federal tax lien attach to an entireties property interest. And the common-law background of the tax lien statute’s enactment is not enough to overcome the broad language Congress actually used.

233 F.3d 358, reversed.

O’Connor, J.; Scalia, J., dissenting; Thomas, J., dissenting.

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